Negative attitudes on public transport

Some people may seem to doubt your right to use the same travel services as them. But you have every right to access the same service, and this is protected by law.

Your rights as a disabled passenger on public transport (GOV.UK)

If you come across negative attitudes to you as a disabled passenger, here are some things you can try to help manage stressful travel situations.

Negative attitudes you might face

Most people will treat you with respect and as a fellow passenger. Others might be concerned about whether you need help. They might ask questions about how you are or if you need help. This can feel patronising, but it’s mostly well-meaning.

People might:

  • talk about you based on the equipment you are using, such as a wheelchair or mobility scooter
  • talk about your impairment or condition (for example, if you are partially sighted and use a mobile phone while holding a cane)
  • not believe that you are disabled if you have a less visible impairment
  • tut, sigh, swear or roll their eyes at you

Staff on public transport should be helpful and understanding. They might be rude or insensitive sometimes. You can challenge this or you can choose to ignore it.

Warning If you are being abused or are in danger

You can call the British Transport police on 999 or discreetly text them on 61016. Always call 999 in an emergency.

Cards and lanyards that help explain your condition

If you need additional support, understanding or a little more time, you could try getting a sunflower lanyard. This shows other people that you have an invisible condition or impairment.

You can get them free at some supermarkets. You can also buy them for under £1 on the Hidden Disabilities website.

Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyard

If you find it difficult to stand while using public transport, you could use a card or badge to let others know you need to sit down.

Please offer me a seat (Transport for London)

If you need more time to do something or find it hard to communicate, the Just A Minute (JAM) card might help. It is an easy way to ask others for space or patience when using public transport or shopping.

JAM card

If you’re going to be in a situation where your child might react, you could hand out printed cards describing your child’s condition and what they need.

Manage things in your own way

You might feel able to confront people with negative attitudes directly. But it’s fine not to respond if you’re too tired or they’re being hostile. If you are confident talking about disability with new people, this might help.

For example, if someone is staring at you

You may choose to start a conversation with them or you may try to ignore it.

Talking about your impairment or condition with new people

If someone is staring at your disabled child, you could make eye contact and smile. Or try talking to them about your child, but only if you’re comfortable doing this.

For example, if someone is staring at your child

“I can understand kids staring. Sometimes I chat with them and answer their questions and they are very accepting and kind.

Adults can be ignorant, rude and downright nasty. When I'm out with my little girl I tend to say 'Yes, she's beautiful, isn't she?' and that usually works.”

Staying calm if you’re anxious while travelling

Dealing with negative attitudes might make you feel anxious while using public transport. You can develop ways of dealing with negative attitudes. See what works for you. You could try:

If your anxiety starts to affect other areas of your life, seek advice from your GP.

Anxiety, fear and panic (NHS)

Confronting negative attitudes

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you can choose to confront them, for example if they are saying abusive things. Depending on the situation, you may decide that the best thing is to ignore it.

You have the right to travel without being harassed. If people do not recognise this, you also have a right to stick up for yourself. If you feel comfortable and safe in doing so, talk to them.

Asking for help

Many people on public transport are likely to be kind and willing to help.

You can also talk to train staff about it if they are nearby or call the train company’s customer service line.

Decide whether you can ignore the situation. On a short journey, it may be better to report it once you are out of the situation.

If you are feeling unsafe, you can use the emergency call button to speak to the driver.

On buses, you can speak to the driver when the bus stops. Ask them for help.

You may wish to tweet about what is happening. If you use the train company's Twitter handle in the post, they will often respond quickly to your message.

Complaining about public transport

You are not responsible for how other people behave

Experiencing negative attitudes can be distressing. But it’s important not to let a bad experience put you off travelling.

You are not responsible for other people’s attitudes or behaviour. It reflects on them, not you.

Other ways to travel

You have the same right to travel as everyone else. As a last resort, you may decide that you’re more comfortable travelling a different way. For example, if people behave negatively towards you on trains, you might choose to travel by bus or taxi instead. But it’s your choice.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 30/05/2023

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